The Magnificent Seven: Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriquez, Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Tyrese Gibson, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges and Jordana Brewster in Furious 7.
Furious 7 has grossed $1 Billion at the global boxoffice faster than any other film. It reached the milestone after 17 days in release. In doing so, it broke the record previously shared by Avatar, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, and The Avengers. Each of those films reached $1 Billion in 19 days.
What has driven this success?
The Christian Science Monitor asks: “So what makes the film series so successful? It’s not reviews from critics – some moviegoers will always want to see fast cars and fights…” David Sims in The Atlantic agrees: “From Fast Five on, each film has thrived by trying to top its’ predecessors outrageous stunts and balletic set pieces.” Sandy Schaefer of Screenrant calls the Furious films a “Superhero franchise in disguise.”
And yet, audiences seem to accept the stunts as being grounded in reality. No caped crusaders or aliens or genetic mutations explain the incredible feats. Schaefer again: “the crew… must wrestle with matters like parental responsibilities, love, greed vs. generosity, and their obligations to other people, all of which are presented in a context that reflects life in the 21st century.” These characters are real people, so the crazy things they do must be possible. The moviegoer can think “I could do that.”
Time notes: “In any other series, a handsome white guy like Paul Walker would be the sole hero… And ostensibly, Walker was the star of the first two films. But by the fifth installment, he was just one of an impressively diverse entourage that included an Italian-American man, a Japanese man, two black men, a Latino woman and an Israeli woman.” The cast of each installment includes someone for everyone; no matter who you are, you can find a character to follow.
But it isn’t simply that there are many ethnic groups or nationalities represented. These actors also bring loyal fans.
Dwayne Johnson earned the nickname “Franchise Viagra” after joining the ensemble in Fast Five. That installment improved by 72% at the box office over the previous film in the series. Perhaps his added muscle and action credibility contributed to the energy that he brought, but he also appeals to the Pacific rim and urban audiences in North America. Dwayne Johnson in Furious 7.
Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges boasts an army of worldwide fans due to his phenomenal success as a hip hop recording artist.. He has sold 14 million albums, and those fans like to come to the movies too. Ludacris.
The women are strong characters as well. The Atlantic points out that “although it feels ridiculous to say this of a brand that never shies away from featuring a montage or two of girls frolicking in bikinis, its female characters are strong, flinty, and individually defined. While other major franchises like Marvel struggle to incorporate women without reducing them to helpful sidekicks, heroines like Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez) felt fully developed from the get-go.” Time also applauds the treatment of women characters, saying “as it turns out, women can drive fast too. Fast & Furious has been surprisingly progressive when it comes to gender equality. Letty throws a punch as hard as Dominic. And when we meet an attractive female hacker (played by Game of Thrones’ Nathalie Emmanuel) in the latest installment, one male character is quick to admonish another who assumes that only nerdy boys can be programmers.” No surprise that 49% of the audience in North America is female.
Significantly, 75% of the audience in North America is non-Caucasian; over half of that amount is Hispanic. “The importance of diversity of the ensemble cast in the Fast and Furious franchise has been an integral part of the success of the brand,” says Rentrak box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian, as quoted in the Hollywood Reporter. “There is literally someone within the cast that is relatable on some level to nearly every moviegoer around the world, and this has paid big dividends at the box office.”
A crucial factor is the equal treatment of the cast of characters. The Guardian observes that Paul Walker was critical to that dynamic: “F&F could never have been the anomaly that it is – a racially egalitarian franchise – unless its lead-male white actor had been willing to accept his place in the ensemble. Walker never shook the boat, and seemed happy where he was as the series grew in popularity and became more ethnically predicated.”
Furious 7 features additional cast members Djimon Hounsou (born in Benin, West Africa), Thai martial artist Tony Jaa, Game of Thrones actress Nathalie Emmanuel (England), Elsa Pataky (Spain), Ali Fazal (India) and Jason Statham (England.) All appeal to international audiences. These international stars strengthen the world wide marquee value of the film, and are further supported by the international storylines and locales featured in the franchise.
The Atlantic charts the growth: “Fourteen years ago, the series started as a caper about illegal street racing in L.A. But over subsequent sequels, it offered up an adrenaline-pumping heist thriller, and eventually a bombastic action epic about international super-spies who just happen to drive cars really, really well,” becoming in the process “a global spy caper…” with “a hint of James Bond.”
FF3 was set in Tokyo, film number 4 traveled to the Dominican Republic and Mexico, Fast Five took place in Rio de Janeiro, FF6 has action in Monaco, London and Spain, and Furious 7 goes to Abu Dhabi. Yet the center of this universe remains Los Angeles. Exotic locations around the world are thus united with LA in the cinema sphere, admitting viewers everywhere into the most exclusive pop culture club on the planet: Hollywood.
Ultimately, the diverse elements are held together by one core concept: family.
“While the ‘family’ of the Fast & the Furious crew is almost entirely blended, the symbolic significance of the unit has remained consistent throughout the ever-morphing series—it’s understood that these characters have each other’s backs in some fundamental, magical way,” writes Sims in The Atlantic.
He continues, “it’s certainly why these films have maintained such consistent charm over the years. No doubt future installments will be produced even without (Paul Walker), given the certain financial bonanza that awaits Furious 7. But the key to their success will be conveying that these stunt-driving international men (and women) of mystery are a genuine, live-in clan. As long as that continues, Fast & Furious can keep driving forever.”
Schaefer of Screenrant sums it up: “what really makes Dom as much a superhero as Batman or Iron Man – even without a costume (we’ll say his odd-fitting tight shirts don’t count) – is his higher moral calling and devotion to family.”
The right to belong to this group is extended to all, according to Vin Diesel, who told Entertainment Weekly: “It doesn’t matter what nationality you are. As a member of the audience, you realize you can be a member of that ‘family,’” he says.